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Tips for Writing Good Descriptions

The description is like an abstract for the web site. It should be 2—5 sentences, depending on how much depth there is on the site. Put yourself in the shoes of a user searching for resources. What do you really need to know?

The description can't be any longer than 2048 characters long for DCS cataloging. There is no hard limit for Dublin core cataloging, but keep in mind that most folks have a short attention span when surfing online.

Compose the description using Microsoft Word so that you can use spelling and grammar checking. Then paste it into the text box. Below are some general hints.

Do: Use text from the site itself; the site authors usually know their product best!

Don't: Treat the web page text as sacrosanct. You can change it to fit the needs of the description.

Do: Use non-judgmental descriptors, "This is a useful collection of photomicrographs."

Don't: Use judgmental words (which often come from the site's own text) "This is the most complete website for photomicrographs."

Do: Describe what the web site is - syllabus, study guide, reference, image gallery, collection of links, on-line article, map, etc.

Don't: Summarize the contents of the article, book, or lab exercise. Just describe, for example, that the site contains an article about topic xyz. Your description is a summary of what the web page contains, rather than a summary of all the material on the site. (A fuzzy distinction.)

Do: Write the description for an earth science audience. A good rule of thumb is to target your writing toward an undergraduate, intro-level geology student. That is about the lowest level that would be using the SERC sites.

Don't: Use excessive jargon or write your description so that only professors in that field can understand it.

Do: Browse the site and discover the most useful features of the site. If you think it's cool, others most likely will too!

Don't: List the menu items contained in a site.

A general format for descriptions:

  • This is a (syllabus, data set, abstract, proposal, report...) about (fill in the topic).
  • Topics covered/discussed/exlpored/examined include ... -OR-
  • Features of this site include...
  • This site provides/features...
  • The site also contains... (something else that's cool that you want to direct searchers toward)
Other optional stuff:
  • The purpose/goals of this project are...
  • This site would be useful for... (audience level)
Only use these last two if there is a clear need. If not, it's preferable to keep the description short.

Some example descriptions for three different types of sites:

This site consists of a series of modules for introductory geology. The site features useful, interactive animations for a large range of geology topics. There are lecture slide shows, quizzes, and interactive computer activities. Content is divided into lecture material and laboratory activities, and covers topics such as rocks and minerals, weathering, soils, geologic time, structural geology, plate tectonics, maps, glaciers, and hydrology. The animations on this site would be useful for teachers looking for instructional tools.

This site provides an online community for health professionals and others interested in environmental health and gives users the opportunity to access important resources about public health. Topics include children's environmental health, air pollution, climate change, energy, chronic disease and the environment, drinking water, land use, and toxins such as pesticides, heavy metals, and persistent organic pollutants. The site features fact sheets, reports, publications, and updates on current research and legislation.

This site is the public interface for the EPA's involvement with public health and environmental restoration efforts at an asbestos-contaminated vermiculite mining operation in Libby, Montana. The site provides fact sheets, press releases, documentation of community involvement, and sampling results. The site also provides links to additional resources about Libby, Montana and asbestos in general.